The Guardian • Issue #2032

The ALP’s new IR laws: new avenues for action, new shackles

CPA Logistics and Manufacturing branch

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2032

Photo: Anna Pha

CPA Logistics and Manufacturing Branch

The ALP government has recently announced its new Industrial Relations laws. Positioned as a response to workers’ demands to organise collectively across multiple worksites, the new laws permit some forms of multi-employer bargaining.

While this is a positive step forward, the new system comes with its own shackles aimed at limiting the availability and effectiveness of multi-employer bargaining, as well as new restrictions on industrial action and deliberate attacks against the lowest paid workers.

Fortunately, the bill hasn’t passed the Senate and come into effect yet. Workers need to make our voices heard that the proposed laws are not enough and try to win as many reforms as possible before they take effect.

More importantly, workers and their unions need to militantly struggle against unjust laws to get real wins and to create a system without any shackles on workers industrial activity.

The Communist Party of Australia Logistics and Manufacturing Branch calls for:

  • The right to multi-employer and industrial bargaining with the unrestricted right to strike.
  • The abolition of Protected Action Ballot Orders, compulsory conciliation and compulsory arbitration.
  • The defence of the Better Off Overall Test.
  • Unrestricted right of entry to workplaces for union officials.
  • Rights for workplace union representatives.
  • Union run labour hiring halls and an end to labour hire companies.


The most significant benefit of the new IR laws is the enabling of multi-employer bargaining. While multi-employer bargaining is currently legal if employers agree, the changes would allow workers to compel multiple employers to bargain for a single agreement. Importantly, workers bargaining across multiple employers would have access to protected industrial action.

Other positives of the bill are the abolition of the ABCC, the guarantee of minimum wage to gig economy workers, the banning of pay secrecy and sexual harassment, t the right to request flexible work hours with arbitration at the Fair Work Commission (FWC), and making job security and gender pay equity explicit goals of the Act.


Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has rejected business concerns that the laws will lead to more strikes, arguing “we have low rates of strikes. We’ll still have low rates of strike.” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus agreed, saying that “we don’t want to see more strikes […] we note that it’s actually extremely hard to even access protected action, extremely hard”.

Obtaining a Protected Ballot Action Order (PABO) would now automatically create a conciliation process with the FWC in which employers could seek compulsory arbitration. Protected industrial action would now require five days’ notice and a new PABO every three months. These are significant shackles on the right to strike, further tying up industrial action in unnecessary, expensive, and time-wasting bureaucratic processes while forcing compulsory conciliation and arbitration to try and prevent industrial action taking place.

To access multi-employer bargaining, unions will have to show that the employers have a “common interest,” have been “fairly chosen,” and that bargaining is “in the public interest.” This means that any attempt to bargain or strike will be ruled out if considered to have too much impact. In addition, the bill bans unions with a history of “misconduct”, such as the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union (CFMMEU), from accessing multi-employer bargaining.

Another serious issue is the ALP breaking its election promise that it would not change the Better Off Overall Test. In fact, it is these changes that are most vocally supported by big business, the media, and Unions alike, driven by the influence of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA). Couched as a “simplification”, the changes allow large businesses and pro-employer unions to sign sell-out deals that get rid of casual loading, penalty rates, and workers’ rights.

What’s more, unions would no longer even have to explain the terms of a new agreement to workers, allowing them to tell workers to sign a sell-out deal after completely misrepresenting it.

The most recent government budget forecasts real wage decreases next year, driven by sky-rocketing inflation. This comes as the as the ALP recently delivered a class-war budget that continues the pillaging of the country and its workers to give handouts to the rich. Workers cannot expect the ALP or its new IR policy to increase wages and conditions.

Only highly organised and militant industrial and political action can improve things for workers. While the new laws provide some new avenues for action, they also provide new constraints and attacks that we’ll have to struggle against to overcome.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More